Political assistants have pay slashed
Political assistants, who have long come under fire for failing to justify their generous salaries, will have their pay drastically cut in July in response to a public outcry, while ministers will get a pay rise of 8.1 per cent.
Under the plan approved by the Executive Council last Tuesday, the monthly salary of political assistants will be capped at HK$100,000, down from the current level of between HK$134,000 and HK$164,000.
Announcing the revised salary package, Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Raymond Tam Chi-yuen said yesterday the pay cut was in response to criticism four years ago that the political assistants were overpaid.
'Political assistants usually stay out of the limelight and are not well-known among members of the public. It was sometimes difficult for them to get in touch with lawmakers for lobbying jobs, too,' he said. 'Some legislators did not even take phone calls from political assistants. The problem was only solved after more senior officials made the calls.'
He said the role of the political assistants would also be adjusted, with a stronger emphasis on reaching out to different sectors of society, instead of facing inwards to do government lobbying work.
Under the shake-up plan of chief executive-elect Leung Chun-ying, each policy bureau can hire a flexible number of political assistants with a monthly budget of HK$100,000.
Nine political assistants were appointed in 2008 to serve policy secretaries, but they were immediately criticised as overpaid novices.
Meanwhile, the salary of bureau chiefs will increase 8.1 per cent to HK$322,260 in July.
Tam called the rise 'prudent' after an independent commission originally recommended a 15.3 per cent increase based on inflation.
He said a mechanism would be set up for an annual adjustment to ministers' pay based on inflation, if the proposal was approved by the Legislative Council's Finance Committee next month.
Leung Chau-ting, chief executive of the Federation of Civil Service Unions, said the ministers' pay rise was acceptable, but the cut for political assistants was too late.
'The damage has been done to civil service morale. Senior civil servants think they [the political assistants] are incapable yet they are paid even more than them,' said Leung. 'Whether the damage can be rectified depends on how bureaus spend the HK$100,000 monthly budget. If only one assistant is hired the old problem remains.'
Lawmaker Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, a former security minister, called the pay rise and new arrangement for political assistants 'reasonable'.
But pan-democrat legislator Leung Yiu-chung said ministers should not get a pay rise as the division of work between them and civil servants remain unclear.
Leung Chun-ying also intends to create two deputy posts for the chief secretary and the financial secretary. The number of bureau chiefs will rise from 12 to 14 to include culture and technology, and communications secretaries.